Raging Rollins

Billed as a “rock ‘n roll raconteur”, Henry Rollins blends stand-up, storytelling and spoken-word into a performance that wowed South African audiences when he was first here in 2007. He returns on May 6, 7 and 8 to treat us to his new show, Frequent Flyer.

Those who missed the first round should see why his combination of thoughtful commentary and enraged ranting has made him famous.
Rollins was famous before the public-speaking thing.
As vocalist for Black Flag in the 1980s, punks revere him as a pioneer of hardcore—punk’s harder, louder and faster son. In the 1990s he continued to make music with the Henry Rollins band and he is also a writer, publisher, talk-show host, radio DJ and actor.

But if you saw a picture of him, complete with wife-beater and rippling muscles, you would be forgiven for thinking he’s a bodybuilder. He says the reason for his iron pumping is that the impetus for his work is his need to push himself, whether mentally or physically. “It’s a major thing with me. It gets the best out of me. I have to keep challenging myself as much as I can. It keeps me in line.”

Counterculture hardcore punk pioneers aren’t usually buff. But that’s only one of the things that makes Henry Rollins unusual. Rollins is in his comfort zone, thinking or doing things that most of us may find anomalous. He is heterosexual, but an extremely vocal campaigner for gay rights. He is anti-war, but went out and entertained United States troops in Iraq. He is an icon of alternative culture but prefers jogging and gym to drinking and drugs.

Although he is outspoken on most issues, he’s generally very quiet when it comes to his eschewing of substances. These supposed contradictions are what make him an interesting character—and asking him about them produces some interesting responses.

His decision to talk to the troops? “Soldiers don’t start wars, they only fight them. At no time was my argument about the invasion and occupation of Iraq with the soldiers. So, when I was offered the chance to talk to soldiers, I took it. I never told them I thought it was a good thing that they were doing. I think the military were used by the Bush administration to fight a corporate war.”

His silence on his sobriety? “I think all that kind of thing is a personal choice issue. If you want to toxify your body, go ahead. I am in no position to tell you how to live is the bottom line. If you want to shoot heroin, that’s up to you. If you want to steal from me to get the drugs, then we have problems. I wish people wouldn’t do such awful things to themselves, but that’s free will.”

His campaigning against homophobia? “It’s one of the more pathetic cruelties out there. Yesterday there was an article I read. There’s a girl in Mississippi who wants to go to her prom with her girlfriend. The school cancelled the entire prom, rather than say they hate gays. The girl will be the object of hatred by her less-than-switched-on classmates. For what? So some idiots can say she’s a pervert and that they are good with God? It’s this kind of thing that makes me mad.”

His rage is what people pay to see. Somewhere between spoken-word, stand-up and a lecture, he works himself up into a frenzy, ranting as his neck muscles become increasingly pronounced. The more pissed off he gets, the more entertaining his show becomes.

Last time he was here, though, Bush was still in office, and he directed the lion’s share of his ire at the unpopular ex-president’s administration. With Bush gone, what’s he going to talk about?

“There will be a lot of travel stories, some stuff about the Obama administration, which I think has wasted a lot of time, things happening all over the world, freedom issues.” And he is quick to point out that although Bush may no longer be in office, his legacy is still palpable. “I think the Bush damage will be with America for a long time.”

Rollins does not attempt to disguise his disappointment in Obama. “At this point, he could very well be a four-year president. I think he means well but he should have come out of the gate swinging. I guess it’s not his way. I think his opponents will be able to lie down in the road and get in the way of progress enough, so the situation could very well become messier than it was before he got elected.”

It’s one of the many issues that makes Rollins angry. As long as there is injustice in the world there’s bound to be an angry Rollins ready to rant about it. Which is just as well—as long as he stays mad we’re guaranteed a great show.

Henry Rollins will be at the Pretoria State Theatre on May 6, the Bassline in Johannesburg on May 7 and the Baxter Concert Hall in Cape Town on May 8. Tickets are R290

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